My New Book


Wild Flowers And Blue-winged Warblers

Last fall, I went on a tear to get rid of some buckthorn and start replenishing the woods with bee and bird friendly plants (with mostly native plants) in Mr. Neil’s woods. I’ve tried to make a sincere effort to learn my wildflowers and if I’ve learned anything, it’s that if I find a flower very attractive, it’s non-native.

I got some large-flowering trillium last fall and planted that on the slope where the big fallen oak has been hosting sparrows all winter. Alas, it does not appear to be popping up. As I was feeling sorry for myself and wondering what I could do differently, I noticed this, mere feet from where I planted the trillium:

Nodding trillium! Growing all on its own, without me planting it! Has it always been growing on this hill and since I’m always bird watching that I have just never noticed it? That’s quite possible–really, the only wildflower I knew before this was Dutchman’s breeches and Jack-In-The-Pulpit (which we have a ginormous amount of Jack’s this year). Refreshed and excited, I decided to head into the woods to see what other flowers might be popping up and to try and get some warbler shots. I head to the spot where a major buckthorn removal had taken place and found:

A butt load of garlic mustard. One of the reasons I have never bothered to learn my plants is that I didn’t want to know too much. Once you know what the invasive species are and how quickly they spread and how hard they are to get rid of–you begin to see it everywhere and feel a sort of powerlessness about it. This area floods every spring. So if we begin a garlic mustard removal plan, more will just be flooded in. As I was thinking in my head about what I’d read on the Internet regarding garlic mustard removal, I noticed higher up on a hill, a patch of flowers surrounded by garlic mustard…

It was a large patch of native wildflowers including large-flowered trillium and some rue anemone (and if I misidentify any flowers, please someone correct me, I’m still learning and need all the help I can get). I also found spring beauties, wild geranium, phlox, and something I cannot identify in my books and online:

Does anyone know what this is? I have a feeling it’s non-native since I find them so pretty. Here’s a shot so you can see the leaves:

So, even though there is still buckthorn and now oodles of garlic mustard, there is still some hope in the woods with some native flowers and our bees out there using them for nectar.

After I finished inspecting the wildflower situation, I headed towards the spot where we find giant puffballs because blue-winged warblers have nested there since I have been coming to Mr. Neil’s. I heard one singing right away, found a spot with some open areas so I could aim my digiscoping equipment and waited. It wasn’t long before a pair of blue-winged warblers were out and foraging. The birds seemed to have a circuit that they would follow from tree to tree, searching for tiny insects. By watching the circuit a few times, I got a sense of their route and could kind of follow along with the scope and digiscope some photos.

The blue-winged warblers were not bothered by my presence whatsoever and a few times foraged for insects about two feet above my head. Blue-wings are an interesting species. They hybridize with golden-winged warblers and may be contributing to the decline of the golden-wing. When blue-winged warblers move into the same range as the golden-wing–the pure golden-wings disappear to hybrids and eventually all become golden-wings. You can read more about it (and maybe even participate in a study) at Cornell’s Golden-winged Warbler Atlas Project.

What a pleasant way to enjoy the evening sun with a blue-winged warbler. I even managed to get a video of the warbler singing his buzzy “bluuuuuuuuuuuuuue wing” song and foraging–enjoy!

14 comments to Wild Flowers And Blue-winged Warblers

  • spacedlaw

    I thought 2campanules when Isaw the picture of your wild flower.
    There are many varieties not all of them bell shaped.
    This variety, possibly?

  • dingered

    I’m a grad student from WVU doing a golden-wing project, and after reading many papers, I almost felt like blue-wings were evil! Have to remind myself that they are also experiencing declines, besides the fact that they are just a cool bird.

  • KatDoc

    I thought “harebells” when I saw your blue wlidflower. It is a type of Campenula. It’s not exactly right for harebells, but it’s close. (“Hare”bells for the rabbit lady would be appropriate.)

  • ranapipiens

    I think that your blue mystery flowers are Virginia bluebells (mertensia virginica). They are not a campanula. The white flowered plant with the white trillium is not rue anemone, it is Canada anemone (anemone canadensis). Both the bluebells and the anemone are native unlike that nasty garlic mustard.

  • tai haku

    “Does anyone know what this is? I have a feeling it’s non-native since I find them so pretty.”

    Oh you big pessimist you!

  • KatDoc

    Wood Frog:

    I’m not sure what the blue flowers are, but I’m certain they are not Virginia bluebells. The leaves of Mertensia virginica are rounded, not narrow and pointy like the leaves in this photo. Also, the flowers are in clusters and hang down; these flowers are individual and point up. I don’t know the timing of wildflowers north of me, but in SW Ohio, Va. bluebells bloomed a month ago.

    I have photographs of Virginia Bluebells on my blog:


  • Evan

    I know nothing about flowers. But I understand the desire(?) compulsion(?) obligation(?) to fight invasive species. Recently, I read something that forced me to rethink their role. It’s a quote from Chuck Peters, of the New York Botanical Garden, found in Alan Weisman’s The World Without Us: “This may sound blasphemous, but maintaining biodiversity is less important than maintaining a functioning ecosystem. What matters is that soil is protected, that water gets cleaned, that trees filter the air, that a canopy regenerates new seedlings to keep nutrients from draining away into the Bronx River.”
    I don’t suggest embracing the garlic mustard. But it might be easier to accept, if viewed as the newest native species in that niche. After all, the trillium replaced something, too.

  • Anonymous

    I think your flower is Greek Valerian (Polemonium reptans) or something in that genus.

    Casey T.

  • ranapipiens

    Hi Katdoc – you’re right about the bluebells. Thanks for the link to your photos. It’s hard to see the leaves in the mystery plant photo which makes it hard to identify. Maybe it is a campanula. My peach-leaved campanulas here in Maine are not yet in bloom but Minn. may be slightly ahead of us. How did I do with the anemone?

  • Jess

    If it’s any consolation, trilliums can be kind of temperamental– they don’t much like being moved, so it may be simply a problem with how they were planted. They tend to behave erratically, though– in a season or two you might see them come up again. I do know that they seem to prefer to propagate themselves, and they tend to be erratic about where and when they appear (I’ve got one coming up in my front garden right now– no idea where the heck it came from). You might have better luck throwing seeds, though sometimes it can take a season or two for the seeds to germinate. Some useful information here, if it helps.

  • KatDoc


    I’m not sure about the anemone. Can’t get a good enough look at the leaves and sepals. I wouldn’t hazard a guess without closer inspection.


  • Kirk Mona

    The anemone looks to me to be wood anemone (A. quinquefolia) a.k.a May Flower which is quite common here in Minnesota. The leaves are wrong for Canada anemone but there are some wild geranium leaves in the photo too which makes it more confusing. The geranium leaves look a bit like Canada anemone.

  • birdchick

    Hey Guys!

    Thank you so much for helping me learn my wildlife flowers!

    Thanks to Casey and a private email from Joan and photos on the Internet, the mystery flowers are Greek valerian.

    evan –

    thanks for the perspective on the garlic mustard.

    dingered –

    I appreciate the perspective of the GGWA vs BWWA. I know only a little bit about the whole situation and I almost wondered if I should be excited when I hear the blue-wings when they return in spring.

    jess –

    thanks so much for the trillium info.

  • RuthieJ

    Loved the blue-winged warbler video–what a pretty bird.